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Consumer Data During Covid-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has resurfaced questions over the use of consumer data.  This topic is likely to come under increased scrutiny again once economies enter the recovery phase, and so now is the perfect time for brands to re-assess their customer data collection and strategies.

Getting It Wrong

When the pandemic struck and societies were put into lockdown, thousands of companies issued ‘personal’ emails to customer databases to proclaim ‘togetherness’ and support during the crisis.  Yet the reality was that these were a rushed response in the face of dwindling consumer demand, and many were poorly masked attempts to drive business and short-term profits.  Consumers saw through the smokescreen and took to various social networks to voice their displeasure.

The point is that just because brands have the data to access their customers in this way doesn’t mean that they necessarily should do so, especially if they are adding no value to the consumer.  Issuing empty comms simply for the sake of being seen to be saying something isn’t a rewarding strategy in a world of constantly connected consumers and a growing focus on brand behaviours and purpose.  All those hastily issued corona virus emails did nothing to help the low levels of trust that the public have in advertising, at a time when brands need to demonstrate that they are on the side of the consumer.

Positive Action

The flipside is that access to data is proving an important element to overcoming the current corona crisis.  Mobile carriers across the globe have been sharing user location data with authorities to help profile social distancing and isolation measures, with the likes of Norway, Spain and Poland using location tracking data to monitor the spread.  Here in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) gave approval within existing data protection laws for the Government to use personal mobile data “to protect against serious threats to public health.”

Other countries have taken further steps, such as China, Hong Kong and Israel enforcing emergency measures to set up apps that track infected users and then work back through their location data to identify other people they have been in contact with, and who are now at risk.

At this time of crisis, it’s fair to assume that the general public are more accepting of sharing their personal location and health data to help solve the problem.  Yet will they remain this way once the virus is under control.  Governments and leaders are pushing for special dispensations and powers to help overcome the crisis, but it will be interesting to see whether these powers remain in place once we emerge out the other side.  How brands use customer data may also need rethinking.

New Realities

When we enter the post-COVID-19 phase, things won’t necessarily return to the way they were.  A new reality will likely set in, one where consumer experiences and expectations gained during the crisis will remain.

Brands that have shown themselves to be trustworthy and have customer needs at the heart of their business will be remembered and championed.  Customer expectations will be for brands to continue to add value and deliver against their requirements, which makes the effective use of customer data integral to getting this right.

As such, now is a perfect time to review your company’s data policies, your customer permissions and your compliance with data laws (e.g. GDPR within the EU).  Furthermore, re-focus on how and why you are using customer data for their benefit, and ensure that you have the necessary systems and governance in place to be able to harness the data’s potential effectively.

Once the corona crisis recedes, questions around data usage will remain prominent and consumer willingness to freely share their information is likely to recede once it isn’t life-critical, so having an effective customer-centric data strategy for your business will ensure that you have value to add to whatever your customers’ new reality looks like.

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